Ethan “Stratus” Yankel is one of the quirkiest and most positive players in the OWL. The Justice’s projectile DPS player is constantly doing hilarious things, like videoing himself sinking in a cardboard box, just to promote a previous match against the Fuel. But, what many don’t know is that Stratus was almost never Stratus at all. If it hadn’t of been for the hugs of the world’s friendliest cat, the Stratus fans know and love today may have, instead, been known as the Tolietman.
[As a note, this interview was originally conducted on June 11, 2019 but has been republished to the current date.]
First off, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me right after a break. I just watched the video that the Justice put out about the team’s trip to DC and it looked incredible. How was the break and the experience of going to DC, overall?
The break was something that we had to prepare for pretty early that stage. I think a lot of us, looking at it, were worried about losing our freedom between stages. But, it ended up actually being this really fun thing where we could go relax and have fun for a week, especially with the activities we got to do as a team, like mini golfing. It was a really good team bonding experience overall.
Not to mention, meeting all the fans and being able to do stuff with them throughout the week was really great. It was kind of an eye-opening experience, honestly. As someone pretty new to the Overwatch League, I had never done anything like that before.
Are there any particular players you’ve become really close with while bonding with the team?
I’ve learned that I’d like to hang out with ArK more. He’s cool and a really funny guy. You can see in the videos that we were messing with each other a lot. *laughs*
But he is a really funny dude and is really chill. I like him.
We are expecting localization happening next year and you all to be in DC. So, what does it mean for you, prior to moving to DC, to see fans on the opposite side of the country who are still cheering for you, despite that huge gap?
I actually got this same question at a Q&A while in DC. It’s really nice to be in an environment where I can go out, tell bad stories and bad jokes, and there’s still an entire community and entire city of people that support me. It’s one of the most empowering feelings you can get as an OWL player.
Besides getting to be closer to the fans, is there anything else you’re really excited about for moving over to the East Coast?
I have pretty much all my family already on the East Coast, so it’ll be nice to be closer to them. I lived in DC when I was on my Contenders team, so I do have a bit of experience there.
I really like the wharf area by the river in DC, that area just looks so incredibly nice. I think Georgetown has a lot of shopping that’s really good too. Those would be the areas I’m most excited about but honestly, I’m really excited about everything.
How is it coming back to Overwatch after that extended break? Is there anything you do to refocus yourself, coming back?
The break ended up being a really great team bonding experience. I think, coming back, it helped us a lot. Everyone seems friendlier and more engaged in the stuff that we’re doing and in practice.
For me specifically, I’ve been trying to study more to get refocused on the game. I’ve been looking a lot at how other teams and players play, and listening to music just to get my head in the game more.
Are there any players you’ve been focusing on?
Rascal, Haksal, and Libero. I’ve also been watching ZachaREEE and Blase to see how other players approach playing Brig, specifically.
What are your initial thoughts on the new Bunker-style compositions?
I think, in the OWL, you’re probably not going to see too much of it. I think it’s really strong and I think some teams, on some maps, will be running bunker. For ranked specifically, I will say it is not fun. I don’t like playing against the Orisa sitting on high ground with a Bastion behind the shield. I don’t think most people enjoy that.
I’ve been the Bastion before and, it’s empowering for one or two times, and then you kind of get bored of it. We used that a little bit during one of our stages and I remember Corey, by the end of it, was just so sick of Bastion. He would just throw his hands up and say, “Don’t… Don’t bring up that hero again.”
When I think of positive forces in the league, there’s always a few players that come to mind like Mickie and Bischu. I think many would agree that you are one of those sorts of players as well. What drives you to be that positive force in your team? And, how does that affect your relationship with the team, overall?
A lot of my own positivity, and my desire to do whatever I can to help the team comes out of wanting to beat myself, in a way. I want to always be bettering myself and I always want to improve. That really pushes me to find out how to do whatever I can for the team. I have something in my head, like a responsibility, that’s pushing me to do everything I can. If I’m not doing that, then it just feels like I’m wasting my time and wasting everyone else’s time, which obviously is unfair, and not the right thing to do as a player.
Before you were with NRG or the Justice, you were with a team called Prestige Worldwide. Can you talk some about your time with that team?
On that team, we played and practiced more than anyone else. At the time, we played like three scrim blocks a day. So, six hours, compared to most people who played four, or even two. We played so much that we became the best, just kind of by default. It was in a meta where you could kind of be brain dead and just be mechanically good. That’s all it really took. Through that, I became one of the best T2 Genji’s, not in the brain, but definitely with the aim.
That’s how we became the best, we would just beat everybody because we practiced so much. So, that’s basically the story of that team. A combination of a lot of different people from different places.
Looking back, what is your advice for someone in the T2 scene, maybe on a team like Prestige Worldwide, that is trying to make their way to the Overwatch league? What would you say to those players?
One of the biggest things that I lacked was an in-depth understanding of the game. I’m a DPS player and I’m so focused on mechanics, which helped me to get where I am. It was almost purely from mechanics.
Taking the time to really understand how things work in the game, like VOD reviewing and stuff like that, is really, really important to your own development as a player. You’ve got to become your own coach, in a sense. Also, and I think it ties into it, you have to really trust yourself. I think it comes naturally to some people, because of having an ego, but it’s really important to be able to trust yourself to make the plays and stay in the game. If you are comfortable with your own decision making, then you can provide so much more to your team.
How did you come up with your battletag? And, have you gone by another name before that, or has it always been Stratus?
I’m not sure if you saw this when you were looking through Liquipedia but one of the names that I used to go by was Tolietman. When I was in T2 and on Prestige Worldwide and on Rockets after that, I went by Tolietman in tournaments just because I thought it was really funny to hear the casters say, “Tolietman.” It ended up backfiring a little bit because a lot of people didn’t actually know who was Stratus was, they knew who Tolietman was. There was a big meme that popped up that was “Tolietman=Stratus” because no one knew who Stratus was.
I knew I had to eventually change the name into something marketable…
But, you know, some part of me wonders what could have happened if I would have stuck with Tolietman. I ran into Dogman in a ranked game the other day and I was like, “Damn, dude. I really wish I would have stuck with the name Tolietman so we could have been Tolietman and Dogman!”
He was like, “Yeah, what’s wrong with you? Why did you change it!” *laughs*
That’s incredible, honestly. What could have been?
Yeah, for sure. But, for Stratus, I used to have a cat, that unfortunately passed away, named Stratus. He was this grey little cat that I named after Stratus clouds. He was my idol. I wanted to be like that cat. He was just the coolest cat ever. He would jump up and give you hugs – he was more like a dog than a cat, honestly. He was just this big, dumb furball. He was really stupid but he was really the friendliest cat.
What is your go-to video game to help you decompress and get away from Overwatch?
The game I probably play the most, outside of Overwatch, would probably be Smash Bros. I go upstairs every now and then and play on wifi. The game tilts me but it does help me relax. It’s a good competitive outlet, when I’m not playing all the time, to just be able to go and beat some people up, every now and then. Sometimes I’ll get beat up and that doesn’t feel too good.
But, besides that, I like to go outside and sit on those pool recliner things. Uhh, I don’t know, what do you call them?
Yeah, lounge chairs. I’ll go out on the lounge chairs and… lounge.
To close out, what can we expect from Stratus for the last two stages of 2019?
I’m not sure how likely it is at this point in time, but I can’t say that I won’t whip out the Brig on stage. I think that it’s very possible that, if we start playing DPS compositions, you will see me play. I think that’s true, especially for Stage 4. For right now, keep your eyes out for the random Stratus Brig, it might pop up.
Lastly, I just want to say, Washington Justice faithful, I love you. Thank you.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
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